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Book Review of “Around” (聽在), first publication of the Hong Kong based artist collective soundpocket
at 6:57pm on 8th September 2011


For an entire year have I desired to write this review. One year of handling the book, flipping through it, not reading it really, reading it and then stopping and then reading it again... but not really. Then, there is the CD accompanying it (although just ‘accompanying’ is not the right word since one cannot read the book without listening to the CD), its status as both document and independent object/artwork. During the perusing of this double-pronged publication, mainly documenting and commenting on the Around sound art festival 2009, the vast sound art project curated by Yeung Yang on Lamma, a small island near Hong Kong, this combination of written words and the most mysterious of sounds, the intriguing and unfamiliar was felt everywhere by this reviewer who is already struggling to write proper art criticism about, let’s say, less ephemeral forms of art. James Elkins once stated that nothing could really be said about an image, that only what lies around the image, what Derrida once called the Parergon, can ever be the subject of language. If that is true about the image, what of sound? When Yeung Yang kindly asked if I was interested in writing a review of Around (聽在), I immediately said yes and then immediately regretted it. After this one year of tergiversation, the regret has finally vanished, the book was read, the CD listened to properly and, if the doubt of whether I can ever make any sense is still there for me, when it comes to this very unfamiliar domain of sound art, I can still, finally, write this review. 

I first met Yeung Yang during a conference in Hong Kong titled “Globalization: Cultures, Institutions and Socioeconomics,” where she gave a paper on the role of the curator in contemporary art practices. At a time the title of curator is so often terribly misused (how many persons who basically were in charge of hanging pictures in a gallery call themselves curators…), her ideas were a breath of fresh air and an enlightening statement on the true roles of the curator. For this event, Yeung Yang and the persons originally responsible for the creation of the art collective soundpocket (, invited artists and curators well experienced in manipulating contexts and creating the kind of sound installations that have not often grabbed headlines even in the specialized art press. In that sense, they could also approach the act of writing about these sound installations with the eyes – and ears – of true participants, exactly what Yeung Yang once described in her paper for that already mentioned conference. 

As a result, it became very obvious to this reader that something relevant can be written about sound installation (or at least its Parergon), and each essay in this compilation successfully approaches the themes developed during the show/performance on Lamma island. Not all the essays are about the festival itself, and the artists were invited to reflect on ‘what took place and what is to come,’ and even to invite other people to write about these issues. Yeung Yang’s description of the way these essays interact is a good preparation to the reading, observing and listening of this publication: ‘Each piece of writing is an idiosyncrasy; each one is also a world that breathes into and out of each other… Excluded here are the imperatives to be comprehensive, to instruct. What remains are tinges of ambiguities and inconveniences, so that sound is freed.’ One should not think that these ‘ambiguities and inconveniences’ are an obstacle, on the contrary, the reader will be both interested and intrigued by the mixture of ‘academic’ writings, music, sound and images this double object, book and CD, offers. And the reader will also learn something about sound art in general and how it escapes any simple definition. So, instruct it does, in spite of the warning given by Yeung Yang. 

The decision to leave each essay in its original language, i.e. in the language it was written in, and adding translations in Chinese and English when necessary, could also be seen as a decision to treat language the way early linguistics treated it: as a sign of its orality. If text is treated as a recording of sound (and one should remember that this proposition is fraught with problems, once again cf. Derrida), it was entirely obvious that the original versions had to be provided and the articles of (the French) Cédric Maridet and (the Italian) Carlo Fossati are first reproduced in their original version. From another point of view, this could also be seen as a positive sign of what the glocal has to offer: both an opening on the rest of the world and a converging towards a single locale. In that sense, bringing together these artists from various parts of the globe on the tiny, rural island of Lamma, ‘far from the madding crowd’ was the most coherent decision taken when organizing this event. It unfortunately also made it very difficult to see/hear it for many amateurs who would have loved to go, which makes the presence of this book all the more welcome. 

Pocket : 1 - Around (聽在) 
Edited by Yeung Yang (楊陽) 
Hong Kong: soundpocket, 2010 
370 pages + 1 CD of 12 recordings (75’42’’) 
ISBN 978-988-19480-1-4 

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